Silicon Valley Bank customers breathe sigh of relief as they access accounts
Sam Liang had been trying since before 7 a.m. Monday to withdraw his company's funds from Silicon Valley Bank's website, but it was overloaded and the requests wouldn't go through.
So the founder of transcription software company Otter decided to go to the bank in person to transfer the millions of dollars the startup had in holdings at the failed bank. The line was too long at the Palo Alto branch, so he went to nearby Menlo Park, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley.
"It's definitely very assuring," he said of the U.S. government's announcement that all depositors would have access to all their money on Monday, after Silicon Valley Bank was closed by regulators late last week. Liang's employees had been worried about when they'd get their paychecks.
Founders reported early Monday they were able to access their Silicon Valley Bank accounts online and initiate wires to other banks - which were starting to clear.
Roughly 20 customers at any one time were lined up to get into the Menlo Park location of the bank on Sand Hill Road most of the day Monday. A representative from the FDIC was giving customers instructions as people in line filled out forms on clipboards.
Regulators stepped in to close Silicon Valley Bank after the tech industry bank said it would have to sell some of its stock to raise money and recoup its losses. That disclosure sent off a wave of panic among venture capital firms and start-ups, many of whom pulled their money from the bank, setting off a cascading effect and collapsing the bank.
The closure marked the second-largest bank failure in U.S. history, behind Washington Mutual's crash at the beginning of the Great Recession.
Silicon Valley Bank customers were assured that at least $250,000 in their accounts would be protected due to federal insurance, but most customers had far higher amounts - stretching into the many millions of dollars - sitting in the bank.
For startups, panic came immediately. Some companies realized their employees' paychecks hadn't been delivered on Friday. They scrambled to find ways to pay their bills. And they wondered how long their businesses could stay afloat without access to savings.
Sara Mauskopf spent the weekend working nonstop to keep her company afloat since she lost access to its only banking account more than two days earlier. When she heard the federal government's announcement Sunday, she felt she could finally take a breath.
"It's a lot of relief for sure," said the founder of Winnie, which operates an online marketplace to help parents find child care. "We were concerned about if we were going to make payroll on time."
Jacob Eiting, an Ohio-based founder of tech company RevenueCat, tweeted at his senators after the bank closed that he was "struggling to find liquidity to make it through next week."
"I didn't make risky bets. I wasn't doing anything illegal," he wrote. "We just put our money in a bank account and now, our business is in a precarious position for it."
RevenueCat, which helps businesses build in-app subscriptions, had about $38 million in its account, Eiting said in an interview.
In emergency meetings over the weekend, federal regulators decided to reassure depositors that all their money would be accessible, even beyond the insured amount. The money to reimburse customers will come from a federal fund that's paid into by U.S. banks.
When the news came that he would be able to access his account on Monday, it was like "a million pounds have been lifted off my shoulders," Eiting said.
Mauskopf had been putting all business expenses on her personal credit cards since Friday, the only solution she could quickly find because the only business credit cards she had were held with Silicon Valley Bank. That was by design - Winnie recently secured a line of venture debt from the bank, she said, and one of the conditions was that the start-up use Silicon Valley Bank as its sole financial institution.
"It turns out that banks aren't as safe as I thought," she said Sunday night.
Mauskopf was able to get another business credit card by early Monday, a relief since she had been carefully monitoring her personal balances all weekend. Winnie is now opening five different banking accounts in an attempt to avoid ever having the same experience, she said.
"I'm also just really happy that we can go into work tomorrow and focus on our mission of helping families access child care and not cash flow management," she said.
Silicon Valley Bank was well-known for supporting founders and companies in the California home base of innovation, but the bank's customers stretched around the world and encompassed industries beyond just technology. The bank had more than $200 billion in assets at the end of last year.
Aleksandr Volodarsky, the founder of Ukrainian start-up Lemon.io which provides a platform for start-ups to contract with software developers, had used Silicon Valley Bank for years, even before he left Ukraine last year and relocated to New York state. His company had about $800,000 in Silicon Valley Bank and he had been fielding calls all weekend from investors and friends who were willing to extend loans to help him make it through.
Several prominent venture capital firms offered their portfolio companies low-interest loans this weekend, attempting to keep the young companies afloat. Brex, a San Francisco financial tech company, offered an emergency credit line to start-ups and said as of Saturday that it had received $1.5 billion in requests from nearly 1,000 companies.
Still, founders faced the possibility of not being able to pay their employees or watching the efforts of their hard work dissolve with the bank.
When he learned he'd be able to access his full account, Volodarsky was "very relieved."
"Now we can just go back to normal," he said.